The Capitals are playing somewhere beyond “red hot” on the temperature scale, for the second year running. And as the team has gained momentum, nobody has shone more brightly than the third line. Of trios with more than 160 minutes at five-on-five, Brett Connolly, Lars Eller, and Andre Burakovsky are second in the league with a 61.6 shot attempt percentage and first in the league with an 88.1 goals for percentage.
Brett Connolly has without a doubt been a key piece of that on-ice success. The 24-year old has scored seven times in the last 15 games, and with his 11th goal of the season is already just one away from tying his career high. At this point, it’s looking highly likely that Caps GM Brian MacLellan’s low-risk gamble on the young forward has paid off, and he could be a huge asset going into the playoffs and beyond.
It’s hard to believe that just last summer the Boston Bruins, a team currently in desperate need of a spark, did not even extend a qualifying offer to Connolly. He quickly signed with the Caps and from the beginning it was all about rebuilding the sixth overall pick’s confidence.
“I don’t want to necessarily put pressure on him to, ‘You have to produce offensively,’” MacLellan said back in September to The Washington Post. “We’re just going to let him find his way and try to fulfill his potential. I think that’s what he wants, too.”
Connolly echoed those sentiments, but didn’t flourish right away. Through early January his points per 60 output was exactly 1.0 (10th among Caps forwards) and he was fighting for playing time, spending 14 nights in the press box. Despite strong underlying numbers, with just three even-strength goals in 25 games, it was looking like Connolly was going to be just another warm body on a team who’s final flaw was depth scoring.
A month later, everything has changed.
“This game is all about confidence,” Connolly said to the Associated Press’s Stephen Whyno. ” When you’re confident, you’re a completely different player and when you don’t you’re not a good player. It’s just a matter of finding that.”
Since early January both the Caps and Connolly have been a force of nature. Since then, he’s been tied with the rest of the third line for best possession on the Caps at 58 percent. Even better he’s been producing points at 3.6 per 60, well over three times his prior rate. And his 2.4 goals per 60 at five-on-five was tops on the team during that span, by a healthy margin.
|Five-on-five stat||Prior to Jan 7th||After Jan 7th|
|Shot attempt percentage||57.9||57.4|
|Points per 60||1.0||3.6|
|Goals per 60||0.8||2.4|
|Shot attempts per 60||10.2||14.8|
There is nothing not to like about Connolly’s underlying numbers, and his boost in confidence shines when he makes plays like this one.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) February 8, 2017
The playoffs are still two long months and almost 30 games away, but Brett Connolly is another entry on the long list of reasons to be (cautiously) optimistic.
Stats courtesy of Corsica.Hockey.
Photo by Patrick McDermott.
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